How to Support a Loved One Experiencing Pregnancy Loss

Pregnancy loss is still such a taboo subject. We're warned not to share our pregnancy news too early. I think this is partially to protect US from having to then un-tell everyone who knows (which I have found to be a particularly sad experience). But I also think that, somewhat unfairly, it's meant to protect those who we tell from any discomfort. Either way, I believe that the more we talk about this topic the less alone someone who is experiencing it will feel and the more empowered loved ones will feel in supporting her.

Recently, we experienced our third early pregnancy loss. We lost two pregnancies in 2016 prior to the birth of our son in 2017. My husband and I decided that his first birthday would be a good milestone to start trying to add another heartbeat to our little family. And after a quick check up and clearance from the midwife (I had a c-section and wanted to make sure I was healed enough) We were beyond shocked and grateful when our first month of trying brought that coveted BFP on June 14, 2018. Ironically, this pregnancy was to the day 2 years from the second pregnancy we lost in 2016. I started to lose that pregnancy on June 20, 2016. And for some reason, when I surpassed that date this time, I was filled with confidence that this one would stick. We day dreamed about life with two under two and tossed around names. It was a surreal and happy time.

We even decided to tell my in-laws a little earlier than we might have because I had an early prenatal appointment and things looked pretty good! Unfortunately, the day after telling them I started to spot. It got heavier and then slowed down significantly. This was a Sunday, of course, so I had no one to call since it wasn't a true emergency. I spent the weekend in and out of bed as my heart broke. I had the tiniest glimmer of hope that maybe it wasn't happening. Again.

On Monday, I was brought in for an ultrasound. I should've been a few days shy of 8 weeks. From the moment the ultrasound started I knew things weren't right. The tech made sure that the screen wasn't facing me. I could feel her forcing the probe to look around, to find another angle, searching for proof of life. When the doctor came to talk to us, we were told that all that was found was a sac that appeared to be only about 5 weeks developed. I'd pass it naturally soon but they'd check my bloodwork every few days to make sure. 

I share my story for so many reasons. It's cathartic and healing. It's a legacy and time capsule of life at this time. It's putting one more piece of writing out there that might comfort someone I'll never meet. (This is also why I recorded a Podcast Episode on the topic a few months ago as well!)

Probably more women than you realize have experienced pregnancy loss. I had no idea that one of my closest friends had lost a pregnancy until she shared a blog post about a year later. When I started sharing my journey to getting pregnant with our son, people came out of the woodwork to share their experiences. Knowing that my friend had had a similar experience made her one of the first people I reached out to for comfort. For me, this solidarity, empathy, and community made all the difference in processing my emotions.

On the other hand, I received a confusing mixture of responses from well-meaning friends and family. 

And this is why I've sat down to write this post and share some tips I that worked (and didn't work!) for me in feeling supported during my time of loss. As always, take what you need and leave the rest. These are just my two cents.

1. Avoid Timelines

First of all, assume that this was a wanted, prayed for, tried for pregnancy. This was in the making long before announcing it to you. When you say things like, "at least it was early" or "maybe it's not meant to be yet". You're imposing your timelines on their life plan. 

Remember how you felt when you received that BFP? She was just as excited. And the excitement grew each day that the pregnancy progressed. Whether it was days after that positive or even a few short weeks, she and her partner tossed around baby names at the dinner table. They started strategizing, budgeting, and day dreaming about how life was changing. She smirked to herself while sipping decaf coffee in front of coworkers. The dream was alive and real- for however long it lasted. 

While we're talking about timelines, don't make assumptions about how long is appropriate to grieve. I can still tell you the due dates of my first two pregnancies from two years ago. I know how old those children would be. It still stings to think about. Maybe to another woman that's not the case. We're all individuals. Just let someone have whatever time they need. 

DO: Tell her you're sorry. Mostly that's just wanted I wanted to hear. That someone had sympathy for me and was holding a little space in their heart for me during a difficult time. 

2. Don't remind her of what she should be grateful for.

This one was really tough for me. When I experienced loss the first two times, before my son was born, several people told me to "be happy that you can get pregnant!" That's not really a consolation prize because whether I can get pregnant or not, I'm still not walking away with a baby in a few months. 

Since then I have actually said this to friends but it's always during the conversation later when doctors and tests and appointments are involved. From a logical, clinical standpoint (after some grieving time had passed), I came to realize that yes, this is an important point to bear in mind. I CAN get pregnant. That might be something the docs can work with. I also chose carefully who I said that to because I know that it wouldn't be perceived as helpful to everyone. I hope that my friends know that.

Now that my son is here and we've experienced our third pregnancy loss the new piece of advice is "Be thankful that you have B!" Wanting to grow my family doesn't make me any less grateful for my son. I still can't believe he's here and he's mine. I marvel at him daily, hourly even. Grieving the possibility of a sibling for him doesn't make me any less thankful for the gift of him in my life. 

DO: Ask her how you can help. Rather than giving your advice or opinions on why it might have happened, just ask what she needs. Some women might want to talk about it. Others might want to sip wine with you and chat about the Bachelor as a distraction. Either way, you can't go wrong if you pose the question and follow through with what she needs.

3. Don't act like it didn't happen or try to make light of the situation.

Sometimes it can feel like you're the only one on the planet that remembers the life that almost came into this world. Sometimes it feels like you're the only one who thought it was significant. You may tell a friend, spill your guts, and they never bring it up again. This type of loss can feel so isolating. For me, it was even exacerbated when my son was born. I didn't tell anyone that I felt that way. But I felt like I was just supposed to forget the two pregnancies before now that he was here. I can honestly say that I wonder no less about who they might have been than I did when those losses were fresh in my mind. I'm not filled with grief anymore but my curiosity and longing still coexist with the HUGE love I feel for my little boy.

It's not the same as when a loved one dies. For years, they are remembered and referred to. I realize that with a pregnancy there are no tangible memories to refer to but with these losses it's like we just drop it and move on, as quickly as possible so that no one gets uncomfortable. 

DO: Continue to check in regularly. Ask her how she feels and how she's processing things. There may be a time when she truly feels healed or that she's gotten over it. There are times when, like me, she accepts it as a season of her life that has passed, that she persevered through, that lead to where she is today. Either way, don't be afraid to bring it up and let her know that you haven't forgotten and you still hold space for her in that way.

The important thing to remember is that everyone grieves differently and at a different pace. These tips might not be right for everyone but just knowing you support her might be enough for a grieving mom to start healing. 

Just today I thought that I was mostly healed from our most recent loss. But when I told my husband that today was the day I was sharing that story with my community I burst into tears. I couldn't even say it out loud without my voice cracking. I know some day I may come to terms with this loss as I have the others and I know that sharing my story and tips in hopes of helping another grieving family are part of my healing process too.

I truly hope that whatever season of life you are in, whether you're processing a loss or are supporting someone who has, that you have people to lean on and if you don't-- my mailbox is ALWAYS open. xoxo